The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘controversy’

Under the Volcano

July 21, 2014 | by

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John Gardner in 1979. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss. If you believe that life is fundamentally a volcano full of baby skulls, you’ve got two main choices as an artist: You can either stare into the volcano and count the skulls for the thousandth time and tell everybody, “There are the skulls; that’s your baby, Mrs. Miller.” Or you can try to build walls so that fewer baby skulls go in. It seems to me that the artist ought to hunt for positive ways of surviving, of living.

That’s John Gardner, from his Art of Fiction interview, which The Paris Review published in 1979—three years before Gardner died in a motorcycle accident. As far as lines in the literary sand go, this one seems defensible enough: make salutary art, wall off the volcano, protect the crania of your babies, et cetera. But here Gardner has given us the distillate of what had been, a few years earlier, a very controversial opinion; he’s paraphrasing his thesis from On Moral Fiction, a polemical book of criticism in which he took to task nearly every prominent American writer, pissing off a good number of them in the process. As Dwight Garner wrote a few years ago, “It wasn’t Gardner’s thesis, exactly, that made him enemies. It was the way he indiscriminately fired buckshot in the direction of many of American literature’s biggest names.”

Pynchon? Too inclined to “winking, mugging despair.”

Updike? “He brings out books that don’t say what he means them to say. And you can’t tell his women apart.”

Barthelme? Merely a disciple of “newfangledness.”

And the whole New Yorker crowd? Too into “that cold, ironic stuff … I think it’s just wrapping for their Steuben glass.”

If you’re thinking that picking fights is a pretty poor way of seeding one’s literary philosophy, you’re completely correct. As Per Winther, the author of The Art of John Gardner, has written, “One cannot help but think that Gardner’s cause would have benefited from less stridency of tone … What Gardner risked in couching his arguments in such bellicose terms was a hasty dismissal of his book and all its views.” Read More »

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The Most Expensive Word in History

May 1, 2014 | by

Saroyan print

Since 1964, The Paris Review has commissioned a series of prints and posters by major contemporary artists. Contributing artists have included Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, and William Bailey. Each print is published in an edition of sixty to two hundred, most of them signed and numbered by the artist. All have been made especially and exclusively for The Paris Review.

Among these is Aram Saroyan’s lighght print, available in our online store. The print is a record of Saroyan’s most famous poem—one among many collected in his newly reissued Complete Minimal Poems. Soon after the poem’s first publication in 1965, “lighght” engendered a surprisingly long-lived controversy, in which The Paris Review’s own George Plimpton played no small part. As Ian Daly’s terrific piece at poetry.org explains,

Plimpton decided to include it in the second volume of The American Literary Anthology, which he was editing for the National Endowment for the Arts … Plimpton picked Saroyan’s “lighght,” so the NEA cut him a check for $750—the same as all the other authors in the anthology. The Review kept $250, and Saroyan kept the rest. All of which seems reasonable enough—that is, unless you judge the poem’s worth on a strictly cost-per-word basis—which is exactly what Congress did.

When Representative William Scherle, a Republican from Iowa, caught wind of the one-word poem, he launched a national campaign against the indefensible wastefulness of the newly established NEA, and urged the removal of its chairperson, Nancy Hanks … Mailbags of letters from fuming taxpayers clogged the agency’s boxes, most of them variations on a theme: We can’t afford to lower taxes but we can pay some beatnik weirdo $500 to write one word…and not even spell it right?!

“If my kid came home from school spelling like that,” one congressman said, according to the now-defunct arts and literature quarterly Sabine. “I would have stood him in the corner with a dunce cap.”
The NEA lived to cut another check, of course, but more than twenty-five years later, “Ronald Reagan was still making pejorative allusions to ‘lighght.’ That sparked Saroyan to write about the whole affair for Mother Jones in 1981, in a piece he called ‘The Most Expensive Word in History.’”

But our lighght print is not merely a keepsake from an ill-advised chapter in cultural politics. As Daly elegantly writes—and as none of the pols could see through the fog of their vituperation—the poem is also energetic, ineffable, beautiful:

“Lighght” is something you see rather than read. Look at “lighght” as a poem and you might not get it. Look at it as a kind of photograph, and you’ll be closer. “The difference between ‘lighght’ and another type of poem with more words is that it doesn’t have a reading process,” says Saroyan, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches writing at the University of Southern California … “Even a five-word poem has a beginning, middle, and end. A one-word poem doesn’t. You can see it all at once. It’s instant.”

The Paris Review’s lighght print is available here in an edition of 150.

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TPR vs. Vanity Fair: The Sense of an Ending (With Pictures!)

July 26, 2012 | by

Team    |1|2|3|4|5|6|7   Total
TPR     |1|0|0|1|3|2|0     7
VF      |3|0|1|0|0|1|1     6

Last Tuesday marked the end of this summer’s softball season, and The Paris Review went out in style, coming from behind to take a spirited contest from arch nemesis (one of many, surely) Vanity Fair. It was a contentious affair, bookended by two controversial calls: a play at home plate in the first, and a play at first in the bottom half of the seventh. Due to superior oratory skills (and truth), the former went our way, resulting in a TPR run; due to the notion that a team cannot possibly be right twice in the same game, the latter went to Vanity Fair. (It ultimately only provided a brief respite from the inevitable.) Between the spats were many cheers, a few tears, and a lengthy discussion on the virtues of run-on sentences (decidedly none at all).

Instead of prattling on, I now present a gallery of photos, taken and curated by TPR’s own Alyssa Loh.

Before I go, a quick note to my teammates: Hell of a season. I’ll see you when I see you.

The Paris Review: fashionable on the field and off.


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